Fish may not get much attention, but fishery depletion is one of the more serious environmental problems facing the world today. A shocking percentage of the world's fisheries are overfished. Protecting fishery resources requires keeping fish catches to sustainable levels. The most effective way to do this is through so-called "catch-share" policies, a property-based conservation regime often called "IFQs" or (as some now say) "cap-and-trade for fish," which allocate tradeable shares of the catch among fishery participants. I've written more about this approach to fishery management for NRO here (and discussed how property-based regimes may emerge through private ordering here, here, and here).
The Bush Administration talked a good game about property-based fishery management, but failed to devote much effort to the enterprise. The 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens fishery law ended the moratorium on adopting catch-share management schemes, and the Bush Administration did expanded ocean protected areas, but it could -- and should -- have done much more. Instead, the Administration focused its environmental energies to a series of business-oriented air pollution regulatory reforms, the bulk of which were struck down in court. A major opportunity for market-oriented environmental reform was squandered, and our fisheries are much the worse for it.
There is hope the Obama Administration will push ahead with greater fishery reforms. Greenwire reports that the Administration's budget request for NOAA includes a dramatic increase in funding for catch-share management. According to Greenwire, the request "indicates a major push from the administration" to push the adoption of catch-share systems in the nation's fisheries. If so, this will be very good news for fish, and a significant step toward sustainable management of marine resources.